Violence in suits

In just under two weeks time the Defence and Security Equipment international (DSEi) arms fair will once again open its doors in the Excel Centre, in London’s East End. DSEi, one of a number of weapons fairs owned by Clarion Events, rears its ugly head once every two years in the borough of Newham. It coincides, in something of a mirthless irony, with the anniversary of 9/11.
Throughout the week, some of the world’s most corrupt, repressive and human rights-abusing regimes will be invited at the behest of either Clarion or the British government, to peruse the wares of BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Heckler & Koch and other weapons manufacturers of dubious repute. Newham borough council condemned DSEi in a unanimous vote in 2007, on the grounds that it is deleterious to the celebration of ethnic diversity in a part of London that was particularly torn apart by bombing during World War 2. Needless to say, with the government placing such a premium on the value of the arms fair (a £320,000 subsidy for starters), DSEi continues to grow.
Activists from around the country will be descending on the Excel Centre again on the 13th September to try and the event cancelled -though in the short term many would probably settle for disrupting the event, and raising public awareness (and outrage) about this institutional travesty up another notch. Part of my own involvement in the Stop the Arms Fair Coalition has been producing a community newspaper, The Newham Adversary, which we intend to distribute to local residents in the week preceding DSEi. The article below is something I wrote for it in the aftermath of the August riots:
Class has long since been an unfashionable concept. The idea of class-based privilege, struggle and unity was snatched away, insidiously and incrementally, by three successive Thatcher governments. It has proven a much more brazen act of theft than of all the embezzled milk of her namesake. The perverse result of privatisation and the nurturing of a culture of economic precariousness, is that the very people most punished by the state’s neoliberal fanaticism no longer seem to self-identify in the vocabulary of class.

This is a huge problem. The August riots in cities around the UK sparked the usual swill-trough of ‘analysis’ from the privileged white men who make up the lion’s share of our elected representatives and media hacks. But there were, mixed in with the vitriol, some valuable critiques. The North London Solidarity Federation, a branch of the UK wide SolFed anarchist network, had this to say:

“Much has been made of the fact that the rioters were attacking ‘their own communities.’ But riots don’t occur within a social vacuum. Riots in the eighties tended to be directed in a more targeted way…What’s happened since [then]? Consecutive governments have gone to great lengths to destroy any sort of notion of working class solidarity and identity. Is it any surprise, then, that these rioters turn on other members of our class?”

In short then, the eradication of a class vocabulary –and, consequently, a widespread class identity- has played a significant part in the makeup of the riots being what it was: a largely insular display of vandalism, opportunism and destruction.

Though it is more likely to speak of ‘feral youth’ than use the ‘C word’, the government’s rabid barks for curfews, tighter laws and harsher sentencing loudly declares its class hostility.

One young man has been jailed for four years for a Facebook status encouraging people to riot –though he didn’t participate himself. Thousands of unforgiving custodial sentences have been served in an effort to put the boot to the throat of what David Cameron called “criminality, pure and simple”, in “pockets of our society that are not just broken but frankly sick.”

The government’s reaction to the riots has been internally consistent: its authoritarian rhetoric has been seconded by a veritable frog march of not-so-baby steps towards a police state. The police, now armed with rubber bullets and water cannon to enforce law and order (if this signifies a lawful and orderly society then bring on the anarchist revolution…), have been told that “whatever resources [they] need they will get, whatever tactics [they] feel they need to employ, they will have legal backing to do so.”

Of course this internal consistency brings little comfort, other perhaps than the hope that people may now be alert to the fact that this Conservative government has wiped off the last of its smeared ‘compassionate’ façade, revealing the substantively unchanged tendencies of its Thatcherite antecedents.

Indeed, in the light of the riots’ aftermath we are able to fully appreciate the hypocrisy of government.

It is unimaginable that Cameron, or for that matter the Labour regimes of recent years, might declaim against arms dealers in the same way, that their “continued violence is simply not acceptable and it will be stopped.” And yet the arms trade is an industry of violent opportunism, and an industry of unimaginable destruction. Still, our government courts its perpetrators as though they are royalty. It spends more money buying arms from BAE Systems alone than it does on climate change.

The moral is simple: violence borne from poverty is criminal; the white-collar violence of the arms trade is to be lauded, subsidised and legally protected.

DSEi, (Defence Security and Equipment International), the world’s largest arms bazaar, is returning to London’s Docklands this September. Over 1,000 arms companies will be peddling their weapons systems to buyers from around the world -including military delegations from some of the most repressive, human rights abusing regimes.

And so we return to class once again. DSEi is held in Newham, one of London’s most impoverished boroughs. Our government subsidises the arms industry by up to £700 million per year, with DSEi alone enjoying £320,000 of subsidies and up to £4 million for policing. Meanwhile, Newham council is being forced to cut £116 million from its budget over the next four years -a model of inequity that is being replicated all round the country.

Class must be un-retired, and thrust back into our vocabulary of resistance. As anti-cuts activism continues into the Autumn, so too must we inject an analysis of violence which incorporates an acknowledgement of class, and of the destructive nature of capitalism. We are most certainly not “all in this together”, that has been self-evident for some time. DSEi must only serve as another potent reminder of why this is.

Chris Browne

For a broader perspective on the relationship between Capitalism and militarism, and the military industrial complex…

Power and Terror

Conflict, Hegemony, and the Rule of Force

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky analyses US foreign policy in the Middle East in the 10 years since 9/11. Includes 3 previously unpublished essays.

“Judged in terms of the power, range, novelty, and influence of his thought, Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive.” – The New York Times

“On the one hand we have the established media, the respectable community of foreign affairs analysts, the government – on the other, Noam Chomsky.” – The Nation

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